The New Horizons science team now says the larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima", more closely resembles a giant pancake; and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule", is shaped like a dented walnut.
The Flat Earth Society may finally have a reason to rejoice over something, as the most recent photos taken by New Horizons show that the mysterious object Ultima Thule is actually flat. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD. Photos snapped around that time indicated that Ultima Thule is composed of two lobes, both of which appeared to be roughly spherical.
The object's illuminated crescent was initially blurred in individual frames because a long exposure was required during the rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level, but scientists have since been able to remove the blur and sharpen the thin crescent.
The new images were taken at approximately 12:42 a.m. EST (05:42 GMT) Jan. 1, 2019, approximately 10 minutes after closest approach from a position 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) past Ultima Thule and an incredible 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. By watching which ones "blinked out" as Ultima passed in front of them, the scientists were able to outline the object's unusual shape. The dashed blue lines represent uncertainty, indicating that Ultima Thule could be either flatter than, or not as flat as, depicted in this figure. The researchers have found that the object does indeed have two lobes as thought, but neither lobe is spherical. Background stars, many of which are visible in the individual images, were a defining factor in bringing this image of Ultima Thule out of the dark.
Pictures released late last week - taken shortly after closest approach on New Year's Day - provide an outline of the side not illuminated by the sun. As it's situated in the Kuiper Belt about 4.1 billion miles from Earth, there's much about MU69 that scientists are still learning. However, more analysis of approach images and new departure images have changed that view.
"The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images", said Simon Porter, Co-investigator for the New Horizons project at the Southwest Research Institute in charge of the effort to model the shape of the KBO. The two likely joined as early as 99 percent of the way back to the formation of the Solar System, colliding no faster than two cars in a fender bender.
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